Architecture and Design

Everything We Know About the Melrose Drive-In Liquor Building in Central Phoenix

Melrose Drive-In Liquor could be demolished.
Melrose Drive-In Liquor could be demolished. Robrt Pela
Phoenix has long been known for its mild winters. But America’s fifth-largest city may soon be recognized as the capital of ripping down every old building that stands in a developer’s way.

Earlier this month, the Clinton Campbell house, one of a handful of 19th-century buildings left standing here, was labeled “at risk of demolition.” Last week, it was announced that the midcentury building that’s home to Hula's Modern Tiki, a popular Central Avenue restaurant and bar, will be razed. The structure, part of a 2009 adaptive-reuse project by Davis Enterprises, will be replaced by a parking lot for a nearby apartment complex. Hula's will reportedly relocate.

This week’s victim is Melrose Drive-in Liquors at 4321 North Seventh Avenue. The low-slung, hard-to-miss pink and turquoise building is a bit of an eyesore, albeit an interesting one with some real potential. A demolition notice was pasted to its façade earlier this week.

There’s some genuine interest in saving the building, a 60-year-old fixture located on what’s known as the "Melrose District curve" between Indian School and Camelback roads. In recent months, a colossal, five-story building has risen behind the tiny liquor store. Called The Curve at Melrose, it’s a luxury apartment building that stands where Melrose Bowl, a bowling alley, once hunkered.

“The liquor store obviously needs some love,” says local preservationist Stacey Champion, who lives in the Melrose neighborhood and is circulating a petition to save the building. “The developer is talking about a putting in a pocket park there. Why would we go to a little park on a busy street when Steele Indian School Park is right around the corner?”

Champion thinks the Melrose Drive-in would be great for adaptive reuse. Its unusual architecture features an angled, elevated roof, and winged walls that wrap around a pair of drive-thru bays, one still in use. Others also see the potential in the unusual building, Champion insists.

“The fact that we got more than 500 signatures in less than 24 hours tells us that the community’s not happy about this being torn down,” she says of her petition.

Before breaking ground on its apartment building, representatives of P.B. Bell met with Melrose neighbors to discuss the project. Shortly after, the developer circulated social media polls asking if locals wanted to keep the building or tear it down. Although slightly more than half voted to keep and rehab the building, P.B. Bell posted its demolition notice.

Champion and other preservationists are hoping to get Mayor Greg Stanton’s attention with their petition. “If nothing else, we’ve proven that Phoenix cares about old buildings,” Champion says. “It’s not just a handful of us now. People are actually getting engaged and angry about having our history torn down.”

If that history tells us anything, it’s that the Melrose Drive-In Liquor story is just getting started.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela